Trump courts early-state Republicans at Mar-a-Lago

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Former President Donald Trump is intensifying his courtship of influential GOP figures in key primary states – this time, over steaks and ice cream at his Mar-a-Lago club.

Trump spent Thursday night wooing over a dozen leaders of the Nevada Republican Party, his first outreach to a state that is expected to be among the first to hold its nominating contest. According to two people present, the former president spent nearly three hours peppering the party officials with questions about the Nevada political landscape, previewing his weekend speech at the CPAC conference and telling his guests that he plans to visit the state in the next few months.

The dinner shows how the former president is escalating his efforts in early-voting states – and is using the trappings of his Palm Beach resort to do so. And it illustrates that he is putting an early emphasis on courting the state party insiders who, as likely delegates to the 2024 GOP convention, will ultimately determine the party nominee.

Trump’s team is moving to address some of the problems that arose during his disorganized — though ultimately successful — 2016 campaign, when his then-primary rival Ted Cruz seemed like he might outmaneuver him in the fight for delegates. Trump ultimately brought in Paul Manafort to oversee his delegate efforts, but he still faced a messy convention where he was forced to beat back pockets of opposition from delegates waging a failed effort to stop his nomination.

The insider-driven process that decides who gets selected as a convention delegate in each state will unfold next year, and the positions are typically awarded to party officials and others who have been involved in GOP activities.

This time, Trump is making a point to reach out to would-be convention delegates, looking to capitalize on his head-start in the 2024 race to make inroads before rivals who are just getting started with their organizational efforts.

In Iowa, Trump has placed full-page ads in Republican Party publications for the past two years, and last year, he gave the state GOP chairman, longtime Trump ally Jeff Kaufmann, a speaking slot at a rally he held in the state. Kaufmann’s son, state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, was recently named an adviser to Trump’s campaign.

In New Hampshire, Trump recently made an appearance before the state GOP and has hired the former state party chairman, Stephen Stepanek, as a senior adviser.

And last year in South Carolina, Trump sponsored a breakfast and spoke remotely to the South Carolina Republican Party’s executive committee. In 2021, Trump endorsed Drew McKissick for his successful bid to state GOP chair and later featured McKissick as a speaker at a rally he hosted in Florence, S.C. (However, Trump endorsed another candidate over McKissick, the eventual victor, in this year’s RNC co-chair race.)

The Thursday dinner was attended by Trump advisers Susie Wiles, Brian Jack, Alex Latcham and Jason Miller. Jack, who helped to lead Trump’s 2016 convention efforts and who has also served as a top political adviser to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has been overseeing the outreach to state parties.

The Nevada delegation included state party chairman Mike McDonald, a longtime ally of the former president, and Republican National Committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid. Before dining with Trump, the state party leaders received a briefing from Trump aides on the 2024 campaign.

Trump during the dinner did not specify when he would campaign in Nevada, where he owns a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. But the former president made clear he would travel there in the months to come. He has made stops this year in two other early-voting states, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he is set to campaign in Iowa on March 13.

Other candidates have also been ramping up their early state campaigning. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has spent time in several key states since launching her campaign last month.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is set to appear in Iowa on March 10 – his first stop in the state, which traditionally hosts the party’s first nominating contest. DeSantis has another event lined up in Las Vegas the next day.